“Rock, paper, scissors!”
Yes, it’s 9am on a Saturday and yes, those are indeed college students.
Thanks to Outriggers and their energizers, participants and facilitators alike were revved for the annual free Leadership U Conference, co-directed by Matt Olmsted, a graduate assistant for Fraternity & Sorority Life (FSL), and Kelsey Paylor, a graduate assistant to Student Activities & Involvement (SAI). With the help of a few quick games and some coffee, Madison Union Ballroom rumbled with the excitement of roughly 175 attendees and volunteers as the conference began on Saturday, January 30th, 2016.
Created to help students develop their leadership potential, the three pillars of LU are learn, network, and lead. The workshops enabled students to learn new aspects of leadership and personal development, and lunch allowed for networking. Hopefully the experience would empower students to leave the conference ready cultivate a more engaged and enlightened campus and community.
Open to any JMU student, attendees came from all backgrounds and majors, from freshman to graduate students. The conference directors also requested clubs and organizations recommend members that they saw leadership potential in to attend. Presenters were comprised of students, staff, and faculty, chosen from volunteers and past presenters, as well as by recommendation.
JMU psychology professor Dr. Bill Evans graced the stage for the conference opening remarks.
“Leadership is intentional, positive influence with others,” he began, going on to explain that leaders are at their most powerful when they’re serving others. These servant leaders as he called them, were people who found their purpose in life and became leaders trying to ignite change based on what they were passionate about. He asked the sea of faces before him, “What’s your hole in the world and how will you fill it?”
Thus roused, everyone chattered excitedly as they made their way to the designated rooms for each of the various workshops. During each of the three sessions scheduled, participants could attend one of the ten workshops and presentations available, which varied between sessions.
For the first session, I chose to attend “Yes Please…and other leadership lessons from female comedians,” presented by Anna Lehnen, Coordinator for University Program Board, Shelly Laurenzo, Assistant Director for First Year Advising Program, and Sarah Orem, Assistant Director of Alumni Relations.
This workshop focused on encouraging women to meet their full potential in becoming authentic and resilient leaders, with a little help from Hollywood’s leading female comedians. The presenters combined takeaways from Shery Sandberg’s Lean In with lessons from the autobiographies of Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, and Mindy Kaling.
During the second session, I attended the workshop “Know Yourself, Know Your Members,” presented by Carson Rader-Bell, a DUX Center Leadership Program Specialist.
Rader-Bell discussed the importance of knowing yourself and your own personal strengths as a starting point to better understand your teammates and coworkers in order to facilitate an effective and efficient team. Based on the heavily researched DISC Personality Concept, those in attendance learned about differing personality types and strengths, as well as how these variations could construe miscommunication and misconceptions, but also how these differences are what comprise the most well rounded teams.
This workshop particularly resonated with junior Stephen Smith, a justice studies major.
“It’s important to remember that by themselves people are inadequate. You need to surround yourself with people who encompass values and differences that complement your leadership strengths,” he said.
For the final session, I attended “Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes,” presented by Michael McCleve, Associate Director for DUX Leadership Center. As it turns out, the name of the workshop was incredibly accurate. After numbering off into four teams, each team split into two groups: the bomb defusers and the bomb experts. The bomb defusers viewed and handled the “bomb” via the computer game, but couldn’t look at the bomb defusal manual. Likewise, while the bomb experts had access to the manual, they weren’t allowed to see the “bomb.” After a minute to orient themselves, the five minute countdown was started. Forced to rely solely on communication, teams either survived…or they didn’t. Cue the dramatic music.
“I learned that no matter what leadership position you’re in, communication is always important,” said sophomore Devin Boehmer, a computer information systems major. “This was probably my favorite workshop, because it relayed the necessary information in a fun way.”
With that, everyone trickled back up to the Madison Union Ballroom for the closing remarks to end the conference. Students shared what they had learned to win prizes, one such student being senior Adam Parker.
“One big takeaway I had was that as a leader, you can’t be static. Your style of leadership needs to change depending on the group,” shared the justice studies and business double major.
Finally, a round of applause sounded in honor of the volunteers and facilitators, and the conference directors themselves, who had been planning the event since last October.
“The most gratifying moment during this event would probably being able to finally see what Kelsey [Paylor] and I work so hard on finally come alive,” Olmsted shared.
“I loved hearing what everyone learned. I was truly inspired by the wisdom and passion each individual shared during the final session,” Paylor added.
At the end of the day, students should know that “leadership isn’t found in a title or a position, leadership is found in a perspective – a way of interacting with the world and others,” Paylor said. “Leadership is within anyone who is willing to put down their own desires and needs for the good of others. I hope that participants realized this potential is within them and I hope they were empowered to embrace it.”